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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Barry is back

Barry Colicelli is back as Trenton’s official gang consultant, after City Council voted Tuesday to award the former Newark police officer’s company a $71,000 contract to coordinate the city’s YOUTHSTAT program.

The vote comes nearly one year after the same City Council voted not to renew a similar contract for Mr. Colicelli, citing a lack of accountability and other issues. This time around Mr. Colicelli’s contract is being paid out of a $300,000 federal grant instead of the city’s coffers, and Trenton is not providing the consultant with a vehicle, cell phone, or office.

Mr. Colicelli will be required to make quarterly reports to City Council regarding progress in the various youth programs he will be coordinating, after his previous tenure with city included little or no appearance at council for extended periods of time.

Despite increased accountability in this new contract, its awarding is quite a disappointment. Many in Trenton feel that this gang consultant works here solely because of his relationship with ex-police director Joseph Santiago and current Police Director Irving Bradley, Jr., who also came from the Newark Police Department.

Also disappointing is the fact that a well-qualified city resident with experience that would have been very helpful in the gang consultant’s position applied for the job, and was passed over by city officials because of Mr. Colicelli’s police experience.

That rationale doesn't hold much water, considering the fact that this position is more about youth services and experience coordinating social service agencies - something the city applicant - than experience fighting criminal gangs. The request for proposal advertising the new contract didn’t even mention police experience, and even if it did, many officers say that Mr. Colicelli’s skills are average at best.

What is scary about Tuesday's vote is that administration officials have still not informed City Council about how Mr. Colicelli was paid for several months and retained the use of a city car and cell phone even though his contract expired, during late 2007 and early 2008.

Perhaps the injection of some additional accountability into the new contract is a good thing, but giving this contract to a Trenton resident would have been better.

City Council members should have demanded answers about the shenanigans that occurred at the end of Mr. Colicelli’s last contract and insisted on awarding the contract to a city resident. Doing so would have provided real accountability.

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